Starting with the Greek Megasthenes who noticed the Indians worshipping the Ganga in 302 B.C. ending with the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary who led a jet boat expedition up the river in 1977, travelers of different nationalities and religions have left absorbing accounts of life along the Ganga through the ages. The information provided by them is vast and varied, and we find detailed and delightful descriptions of social customs and ceremonies, periodical fairs and festivals, flora and fauna, and cities and places of pilgrimage, which they came across in the course of their travels.
With the gradual emergence of the British as the dominant power in India by the end of the eighteenth century, a number of professional and accomplished British amateur landscape artists also appeared on the scene and made charming sketches while sailing up and down the Ganga. Many of these drawings were subsequently worked up either into beautiful oil paintings and watercolours or into coloured aquatints, lithographs and engravings to illustrate their engrossing descriptions of the riverscene.
This book vividly captures the fascination felt by foreign visitors as they traveled along the river during the last two thousand years. The travelers are allowed to speak for themselves as much as possible to enable the reader to enjoy some of the flavour of the original narratives. These written accounts have been blended with the visual impressions of the artist-travellers assembled from private and public art collections and libraries in India, Britain and the U.S.A. Most of this material is being published here for the first time, encompassing the essence of the enchantment and excitement of the travelers of their passage along the Ganga through the centuries.
Jagmohan Mahajan has been engaged in a study of the Ganga as well as British artists in India for over two decades. He has written extensively on both these subjects, and his publications include The Eternal Ganga, Ganga Observed: Foreign Accounts of the River (anthology), Picturesque India: Sketches and Travels of Thomas and William Daniell, and Splendid Plumage: Indian Birds by British Artists.
The position of the Ganga in India is unique. Even though great cities and empires have risen on the banks of other big rivers in the world, no other river has played such an important part in the life of the country through which if flows. Cities and pilgrimage centres crowed with shrines and temples dot its course- milestones in the history of the land and the growth of Indian civilization. The Gangetic plain has in fact been the pole towards which, since antiquity, the political, economic and religious life of the country has gravitated.
It is title wonder, therefore, that the river should have caught the imagination of the host of foreign visitors to the country through the ages. Starting with the Greek Magasthenes who noticed the Indians worshipping the Ganga in 302 B.C. and ending with the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary who led a jet boat expedition up the river in 1977, travelers of different nationalities and religions have left fascinating accounts of the river scene for over two thousand years. The information provided by them in their account is vast and varied, and we find detailed and delightful descriptions of social customs and ceremonies, periodical fair and festivals, flora and fauna, and places of pilgrimage which they came across in the course of their travels along the Ganga.
Late in the eighteenth century, another type of traveler also appeared on the scene. A number of landscape artists, almost entirely from Britain, made charming sketches while sailing up and down the river. Many of these drawing were subsequently worked up either into oil painting and watercolours or into coloured aquantints, lithographs and engravings to illustrate their absorbing descriptions of the Ganga scene.
I have attempted in this book to capture the fascination felt by the foreign visitors as they went up and down the river by blending the written descriptions with the visual record. In weaving a coherent story out of their account, I have let the travelers speak for themselves as much as possible. This course has been adopted after much deliberation to enable the readers to relish some of the flavour of the narratives handed down to us through the centuries. The illustrations, in colour and monochrome, have been assembled almost entirely from contemporary sources. These include the oil paintings and aquatints of Thomas and William Daniell, engravings and lithographs of several other professional and accomplished amateur artists, and a number of maps published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
So many people have been liberal with their time and advice that it is not easy to mention by name all those who have helped me with this book. There are, however, certain specific debts which I must record individually. Khushwant Singh, Asha and Ravinder kumar, Prem Kirpal and N.j. Kamath went through one or the other of the various drafts and made many useful suggestions. V.C. Joshi, S.R. Mahajan and A.k. Avasthi helped in ways too numerous to mention. I can never express in words what I owe to Yuvraj Krishan, who shared my enthusiam for the subject and generously placed the vast resources of his phenomenal knowledge and scholarship at my disposal throughout the preparation of this book.
I am indebted to the Librarian and staff of the Archaeological Survey of India Library for their help by making available countless rare books in their collection not only for reference but also for photographic converge of many of the aquatints, engravings and lithographs reproduced in this book. A number of photographs have also been supplied by the National Archives of India from books in their collection, and I appreciate their courtesy in doing so. Most of my study was done in the comfortable and well-provided Library of the India International Centre, which also houses the rich collection of old and rare books about India on behalf of the British Council. I am grateful to Mr. H.K. Kaul and his colleagues for their willing assistance. I also take this opportunity of thanking the authorities of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta, for supplying prints of three drawings by Emily Eden in their collections. I would like to thank too the editors of the following magazine and newspaper for first publishing articles which form the nucleus of some chapters of this book: Indian Horizons and Indrama, New Delhi; Orientation, Hong Kong; the India magazine, The Sunday Observer, and Sunday Standard Magazine, Bombay; and The Statesman Literary Supplement, Calcutta. These articles not only enabled me to put together concisely the innumerable details I had gathered in the course of my researches, but the enthusiasm with they were received also served as an indication that such a synoptic view of the Ganga scene was worth attempting.
Preface to the First Edition
List of Illustration
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